10 Nov 2009, 10:59am
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Maya Murals Give Rare View of Everyday Life

By Andrea Thompson, Live Science, 09 November 2009 [here]

[Click for larger image]

Recently excavated Mayan murals are giving archaeologists a rare look into the lives of ordinary ancient Maya.

The murals were uncovered during the excavation of a pyramid mound structure at the ancient Maya site of Calakmul, Mexico (near the border with Guatemala) and are described in the Nov. 9 issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The find “was a total shock,” said Simon Martin of the University of Pennsylvania Museum in Philadelphia, who studied the paintings and hieroglyphs depicted in the murals.

The Maya have been studied for more than a century, but “this is the first time that we’ve seen anything like this,” Martin said.

The Maya, like many other societies, left more traces and accounts of the lives of the ruling classes — the royalty, religious orders and artisans — than of the lower orders of society that made up the bulk of such civilizations.

“We almost never get a view of what other layers of society are doing or what they look like, so this is one of the things that makes [the murals] so special,” Martin told LiveScience.

The murals were found on the walls of one layer of the mound structure — Maya built over the top of older structures, creating buildings in layers like onions, Martin explained. While other layers were scraped up and destroyed in the effort to build over them, the layer with the murals appears to have been carefully preserved, with a layer of clay put over the murals, ostensibly to protect them.

This careful preservation “might suggest that it was something pretty special,” Martin said.

The images on the mural show people engaged in mundane activities, such as preparing food. Hieroglyphic captions accompany each image, labeling each individual. In each case the term “aj,” meaning “person,” is used and followed by the word for a foodstuff or material. For example, the terms “aj ul” (”maize-gruel person”) shows a man with a large pot, dish and spoon with another man drinking from a bowl, and the term “aj mahy” (tobacco person) depicts two men, one holding a spatula and the other a pot that likely holds a form of the tobacco leaf. … [more]

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